Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is one of The Ranch’s most creative and innovative modalities for addressing a wide range of therapeutic needs. Through interactions with our horses, residents/clients metaphorically discover and explore patterns of relationships that have become problematic in their day-to-day lives. The very size and strength of these majestic animals stir deeply buried emotions at times while simultaneously affording opportunities to identify and resolve practical matters of communication, empathy, and basic interpersonal respect.
The Ranch’s treatment model is designed to address a dual-diagnosed population. These clients have issues and problems from both a biological and historical perspective that have significantly harmed many aspects of their lives. Every week, clients marvel at attributes they see in our horses. “They’re big” is most commonly heard. Our equines are also referred to as adorable, sweet and strong. In the presence of these horses, the internal lives of such people are portrayed in the dynamics that naturally develop in the therapy sessions. Interactions with the horses predictably elicit interpersonal and intrapersonal psychological patterns that are related to clients’ presenting problems. Developmental deficits are identified by observing clients interacting with the horses. With this information, experiential exercises can be individualized to contribute to psychic healing.
Unfulfilled needs – and hopes – also find expression in EAP. The interaction with an animal as large as a horse affords the opportunity for clients to experience vulnerability in an environment that is not only emotionally safe, but also presents specific means of psychological reparation. Examples of other therapeutic concerns that frequently arise in EAP are:
- Histories of rejection
- Confused sense of self or lack of personal identity
- Unmet needs for unconditional love
- Fear of inadequacy
- Needs for support, nurturance, identity or protection
- Paralysis in the face of decision-making
These and many other issues play out during EAP sessions. For example, a person who has learned to expect rejection and abuse might find she can also be “big” and have feelings and needs respected, when a horse responds positively to her direction. One might find a sense of safety if he discovers that he can physically move a horse towards or away from himself. Our staff looks for opportunities to help people re-connect to their internal feelings, and corresponding needs, by teaching clients how to find the meaning in the interactions with their horses. This is a unique opportunity for clients to test new possibilities in many areas of life by taking initial risks in the context of relationship with another living being, before taking the bigger risks in the context of human interaction. An opportunity for addressing symptoms of PTSD, personality disorders, previous trauma and core issues around addiction and compulsive behaviors emerge naturally in this expressive psychotherapy.
The equine-assisted psychotherapy team brings horsemanship experience and 20 years of professional counseling to the groups at The Ranch. The clinicians look for opportunities for group members to delve into situations that mirror their way of being in the world, employing a variety of educational, cognitive and experiential methodologies.
Clients are taught some things about equine psychology, and guided to discover similarities with human dynamics. A herd-bound horse, for example, is one that exhibits signs of emotional distress when separated from another horse. Awareness of this dynamic can point clients to parallel dilemmas in their lives such as separation anxiety, relationship dependency or how one might express her own emotions, or attempt to resolve issues with others.
EAP also offers an effective and creative way for clients to learn about:
- Effective communication
- Self-worth & personal integrity
- Evaluation and establishment of healthy relationships
- Addiction recovery
- Eating disorder recovery
- The value of trust and respect in relationships
- The dynamics of power in relationships (e.g. bullying vs. equity)
- Assertiveness vs. aggressiveness
- Respect for diversity and individuality
- The importance of teamwork and of community
- Healing from trauma